October 19, 2014:
The government is facing another pro-democracy crises, this time in Hong Kong. The last one was in 1989 in Beijing and did not end well, in part because the government eventually called in the army and slaughtered thousands of people to clear the streets. While the memory of this use of force, and decades of subsequent suppression, kept the pro-democracy advocates quiet (but not completely silent) Hong Kong was a special case because for over a century Hong Kong was ruled by the British and was returned to Chinese control in 1999 to fulfil the treaty by which Britain controlled the city. The people in Hong Kong are Chinese, but they have different attitudes. The government is angry and frustrated at their inability to suppress demands for more democracy in Hong Kong. The government has made it very clear that there will never be true democracy in Hong Kong but the locals refuse to stop agitating for just that. The current unrest began in June there was referendum on greater democracy for Hong Kong. Some 22 percent of registered Hong Kong voters cast electronic ballots (using their government ID) in the non-binding poll. Most people voted for more democracy. Currently China controls who can be allowed to run for office in Hong Kong and directly appoints many officials. Government controlled media condemned the vote, but Hong Kong does have enough autonomy to get away with this sort of protest, and many others besides. As long as there is no violence the government tolerates it, for now. China does not want to endure the domestic and international backlash that would accompany a severe (anything from deadly violence to just sending large numbers of activists to jail and some “disappearances”) crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. For one thing, it would be bad for business. But more democracy would be bad for the communist government, which would lose power in a democracy. Most people in Hong Kong, and a growing number in the rest of China, believe that democracy should be given a chance. These Chinese have noted how so many Western ideas have benefitted China, often after some modifications to suit local needs. Why not democracy as well? After all, it works in Taiwan and Singapore. To the Chinese government this is very dangerous thinking. Since June the pro-democracy activists have become more public with their protests and since late September there have been growing and persistent public demonstrations. There’s a growing call within the senior leadership for “decisive action” (violent suppression) to eliminate the problem before it spreads outside of Hong Kong.
Russia is being forced to depend on China for tech and cash it can no longer get from the West because of the growing sanctions (over Ukraine. As much as Russian leaders loathe and fear NATO, many also resent being forced to grant China access to Russian markets, raw materials and military technology in payment for help coping with the sanctions. Russian leaders believe they can handle China and Chinese leaders believe their economic power will give them unprecedented control over Russia. Someone has miscalculated here and it is as yet unclear who. While China gains more raw materials and export markets along with improvements to its locally developed weapons, Russia is forced to halt its efforts to diversify its economy away from dependence on raw materials exports. The diversification depended on Western tech and investment. That has been halted for the moment and the Chinese can’t replace it. Many Russians see this as a bad decision and that helps fuel the growing popular opposition to the government.
Indians living in areas near the Chinese border are becoming more vocal about growing Chinese aggressiveness in asserting its claims. The latest incident involved a formal Chinese protest against India building roads near the Chinese border in northeastern India. This involves an area that new (2014) Chinese maps show Indian territory claimed by China as actually being part of China and within China’s borders. This is just another escalation in a long-running border dispute over who owns areas like Arunachal Pradesh. In this part of northeast India there are few, if any, ethnic Chinese. The locals know that a Chinese takeover would mean drastic changes because the first thing China does in places like this is move in a lot of ethnic (Han) Chinese and marginalize the natives. This rarely ends well for the locals. While these Chinese claims have been on the books for decades, since 2000 China has become more vocal about it. That's one reason India has been rapidly increasing its defense spending. But since both nations have nuclear weapons, a major war over these border disputes is unlikely. Constant Chinese pressure is another matter. China is applying the same tactic in all its recently activated territorial claims. Constant pressure while avoiding anything that might trigger a war is seen by China as a slow but certain way to secure its claims.
Part of this effort includes growing military pressure on the ground, on the water and in the air. In the last six months Chinese aircraft fell from first to second place as the most common threat Japanese air defense forces have to deal with. Now, again, it’s Russian aircraft that are most frequently triggering a response. From April to September this year Japanese aircraft went up over 531 times to confront intruders. Russian aircraft (often recon aircraft) coming too close to Japanese air space accounted for 61 percent of these incidents while Chinese intrusions (mostly warplanes) accounted for 39 percent. While 2013 was the first year Chinese intrusions exceeded Russian ones, this did not become a trend. But Chinese intrusions have become more common. This has been coming for several years. In 2011 nearly 43 percent of the sorties were for Chinese aircraft. That was nearly three times as many Chinese intrusions as in 2010. Meanwhile Russian intrusions have been declining. In 2011, Russia still accounted for 52 percent of the intrusions and now they are back on top again.
Bowing to growing popular pressure the government has eliminated a 14 year old ban on video game consoles. Almost immediately the American XBox console showed up in Chinese stores. Nearly 500 million Chinese regularly play video games on their PCs, usually via the Internet. Game consoles have been smuggled in for years and this made it difficult for government censors to control what Chinese played on those illegal (but increasingly more common) consoles. Meanwhile the government has had more success in controlling what kind of online games are available. For example back in 2009 the government banned video games that promoted the "gangster lifestyle," drug use, bad language, gambling, rape, vandalism and theft. The government believed that playing these games (like the Grand Theft Auto series) led to bad (especially anti-government) behavior. China also censored some of the violent elements (turning piles of bones into sandbags in World of Warcraft) out of games that were allowed to continue. These bans did more political damage than the games, for research in many countries has shown that there is little impact on player behavior because of these games. But the games are very popular and addictive, and cutting players off from them made people angry.
October 18, 2014: Three Chinese Coast Guard ships again moved near the Senkaku Islands. This was the 25th such intrusion this year and the first since October 3rd. The ships entered Japanese territorial waters (within 22 kilometers from shore), something that has been increasingly frequent this year. China claims ownership of the Senkanus even through Japan has occupied them for over a century.
October 17, 2014: In Hong Kong police made a pre-dawn raid to clear streets that have been blocked by pro-democracy protestors for weeks. But as the sun came up thousands of people appeared and reclaimed the streets from police who again retreated rather than use force.
October 14, 2014: In Hong Kong the government used dozens of masked “thugs” to attack pro-democracy protestors. It was unclear if these were criminals hired (or persuaded by the police) to make the attacks or, as some victims suspected, soldiers or police in civilian clothes. Either way the effort backfired as police intelligence quickly detected growing anger among the demonstrators and calls for fighting back. Unwilling to risk escalating street violence, the thugs disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
October 10, 2014: Chinese construction efforts on Woody Island (one of the disputed Paracel Islands) continue as China recently announced the completion of a 2,000 meter long air strip. This is long enough to support warplanes and work continues on facilities adjacent to the air strip, apparently to support warplanes based on the tiny island. Earlier a school building was completed. This is being used for the 40 children of officials and their families stationed there. The workers continue construction of facilities for the capital of Sansha, a new Chinese municipality (city). Sansha is actually Woody Island and dozens of smaller bits of land (some of them shoals that are under water all the time) in the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south. In fact, the new "city" lays claim to two million square kilometers of open sea (57 percent of the South China Sea).
October 5, 2014:
Indonesian counter-terror forces recently arrested four foreign visitors carrying Turkish passports. On closer examination it was determined that the passports were fakes, obtained in Thailand and the four were actually Uighurs (a Turkic people) from northwest China. Police also arrested three Indonesians who had helped the four Uighurs get into Indonesia and were apparently ready to guide the four to an Islamic terrorists training camp on Sulawesi Island. It was known that a terror training camp existed somewhere on Sulawesi but it was believed the camp was only used to train Indonesian Islamic terrorists. Then again it was also known that dozens of the most aggressive Indonesian Islamic terrorists had left to fight with ISIL in Syria and that Indonesia was still considered a viable refuge for foreign Islamic terrorists who behave while visiting and generally avoid detection. China, on the other hand, is nearby and the most active Islamic terrorists in China are Uighurs.
October 4, 2014: The Philippines revealed that it had quietly halted a planned upgrade to an airfield on Thitu Island. This small piece of land is in the Spratly Islands. China claims all of the Spratly Islands, despite competing claims from the Philippines and other nations. The Philippines is halting the airfield work to enhance its chances of getting a favorable ruling from the UN on its territorial dispute with China. Meanwhile since 2013 China has been increasing pressure on the Philippines to remove small detachments of sailors and marines stationed on nine islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands. The Philippines warns China that it will resist any attempts to use force against these garrisons. In response to that China is constructing more buildings (on stilts) on nearby Mischief Reef (which is only 126 kilometers from the Philippines’ Palawan Island). Second Thomas Reef and nearby Reed Bank are 148 kilometers west of the Philippines (Palawan Island) and well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point. Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft regularly fly over the Spratly Islands and photograph Chinese installations and naval activities. This data is shared with the Philippines and perhaps others. China is the biggest offender in the Spratly Island disputes and shows no sign of slowing, or backing, down. Now China is warning the world that it is ready to escalate but is afraid that the world will call their bluff.
September 29, 2014: China ordered the state owned Chinese firm NORINCO to halt sales of weapons to South Sudan. The first shipment, worth $39 million, arrived in June. China is the largest customer for South Sudan oil but production has been cut by two thirds because of the continuing civil war.
September 27, 2014: In the last two days Indian and Chinese troops have backed off from contested territory along the border in northeastern India. This was done because of recent peace talks. These agreements did not favor India, which withdrew its troops from territory on the Indians side of the border. But the Indian government does not want to endanger Chinese plans to invest a lot more money into India. China has been known to use such investments to encourage cooperation in other matters. India knows it is being played but does not care as long as it is paid.
September 26, 2014: Pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong began an escalating series of large street demonstrations.
September 25, 2014: For the second time in the last three months China test fired one of its new DF-31B ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles). This missile has a max range of 10,000 kilometers. The DF-31B is a minor upgrade of the DF-31A and both of the recent tests were apparently successful.